Why I expect no favours from the referee at Wembley

My home team Norwich City will meet Middlesbrough at Wembley next Monday for the Championship Play-off Final!

The man with the unenviable job of refereeing the game is the very experienced Mike Dean who not surprisingly has a great track record of dealing with some of the biggest matches in Europe. This is just as well given the estimated £150 million prize of returning to the Premiership that is at stake.

So can Norwich expect some favours from Mike? Well, I am afraid not – but Behavioural Economics research indicates this may be down to the Wembley venue and ticket allocation and not just Mike’s (unquestionable) integrity.

Studies by Thomas J. Dohmen in Germany have shown that social pressure applied by a home crowd can and does influence referees’ decisions.  The “atmosphere” created by fans in their stadium leads referees into favouritism. His analysis indicates more time is given when the home team is behind by one goal and games are extended in a drawn match if the home team is more likely to score next. (‘Fergie’ time is therefore empirically proven to exist.)

Dohlen, furthermore, observed that favouritism was greatest in stadiums in which the distance between the referee and the crowd is smallest and when there are relatively fewer supporters of the visiting team attending.

So, with 40,000 fans from both Middlesbrough and Norwich cheering on their team in a sizeable Wembley stadium any undeserved decisions that favour one team will probably reflect human error rather than social pressure. Fortunately,  Norwich are very capable of winning – particularly if Nathan Redmond (below) plays as he did last weekend!

Norwich City's Nathan Redmond v Ipswich

Dohler’s findings are detailed in this pdf: Dohmen on supporter influence and they are worth reflecting on by football fans and marketers alike.

For marketers they are a reminder that choices and decisions are influenced by social pressure. If a referee doing a job that demands objectivity is socially influenced, your consumer or customer will certainly be.

Like football fans, marketers, of course, can use this influence to gain advantage.

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